Dachau Concentration Camp Liberated
Exactly 68 years later, the sheer horror of it remains as incomprehensible as ever. On April 29, 1945, U.S. troops liberated the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany, where the Nazis murdered tens of thousands of prisoners. What the American troops found when they entered the camp shocked them and revolts us still, disturbing stories and images that can never be forgotten.
Dachau was the Nazi’s first concentration camp, opened in March 1933, and it served as a model for all other such camps. During the 12 years the Nazis operated Dachau, it is estimated that over 200,000 prisoners were interred there and over 30,000 people killed, but the exact numbers will never be known. The camp was used for political prisoners as well as Jews and prisoners of war.
This copyrighted report of the liberation of Dachau was published by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) on May 1, 1945:
Yanks Storm Dread Prison
Dachau, Germany, April 30 (AP)—Dachau prison, Germany’s most dreaded extermination camp, has been captured and its surviving 32,000 tortured inmates freed by outraged American doughboys who killed or captured its brutal garrison in a furious battle.
Dashing to the camp atop tanks, bulldozers, self-propelled guns—anything with wheels—the fighting Yanks of the 42d and 45th divisions hit the notorious prison northwest of Munich Sunday.
Dozens of Nazi guards fell under withering blasts of rifle and carbine fire as the soldiers, catching glimpses of the horrors within the camp, raged through its barracks for a quick cleanup.
The troops were joined by trusty prisoners working outside the barbed wire enclosures. Frenchmen and Russians, grabbing up weapons dropped by the slain SS guards, acted swiftly on their own to exact full revenge from their tormentors.
Important Captives Moved
Sorting of the liberated prisoners was still underway today, but the Americans learned from camp officials that some of the more important captives had been transferred recently to a new hideout, probably in the Tyrol. These were said to have included Marshal Stalin’s son, Jacob, who was captured in 1941; former Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg and his wife; Prince Frederick Leopold of Prussia; Prince Xavier Bourbon de Parme and Pastor Martin Niemoller, the German Lutheran who was arrested when he defied Nazi attempts to control his preaching.
(Prisoners at another camp liberated by the Americans recently reported Schuschnigg had been executed by his guards earlier this month.)
One of the prisoners remaining here told officers he was the son of Leon Blum, former French premier.
23,000 Prisoners Die
Prisoners with access to records said 9,000 captives had died of hunger and disease or were shot in the past three months and 14,000 more perished during the cold winter. Typhus was prevalent in the camp and the city’s water supply was reported contaminated by drainage from 6,000 graves near the prison.
When I reached the camp shortly after the battle I saw a train of 39 coal cars on a siding. The cars were loaded with hundreds of bodies and from them was removed at least one pitiful human wreck that still clung to life. These victims were mostly Poles and most of them had starved to death as the train stood there idle for several days. Lying alongside a busy road nearby were the murdered bodies of those who had tried to escape.
Bavarian peasants—who traveled this road daily—ignored both the bodies and the horrors inside the camp to turn the American seizure of their city into an orgy of looting. Even German children rode by the bodies without a glance, pedaling away their stolen clothing on bicycles.
Camp Executives Flee
In the wake of the storming G.I.s, bodies of the trimly-clad Nazi guards lay scattered like tenpins, bowled over as they sought to flee. The highest officers surrendered, waving a white flag, but a Red Cross representative said the real executives of the camp had escaped the night before.
The camp held 32,000 emaciated, unshaven men and 350 women, jammed in wooden barracks. Prisoners said 7,000 others had been marched away on foot the last few days. The survivors went wild with joy as the doughboys broke their pens, smothering their liberators with embraces.
Bodies were found in many places. Here also were the gas chambers—camouflaged as “showers,” into which prisoners were herded under the pretext of bathing—and the cremation ovens. Huge stacks of clothing bore mute testimony to the fate of their owners.
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